Todd Martin

Todd Martin

Sales Strategy

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7 Ways to Diffuse Negative Feedback from Customers

September 21, 2016

Their complaints may have varying degrees of merit, but your customers are more likely to remain your customers if they can air their grievances.

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With everything that’s going on in our world these days, I’m trying to go out of my way to just plain be nice to people, especially when they don’t expect it. Letting cars merge in even when I’m in a hurry. Holding a door open a few seconds longer to accommodate someone coming behind me. Being especially courteous to service workers – even when their own demeanor is less than pleasant.

These things don’t cost me a dime, and they don’t cut into my day in any significant way. But, like someone wise once told me, you never know what impact you’ve had on someone’s life. You might be brightening a stranger’s bad day with a little unexpected kindness.

This isn’t being a pushover or a Pollyanna. It’s common courtesy, something that isn’t practiced as much as it used to be. And depending on how my own day is going, it’s harder some days than others.

I try to maintain this attitude with my customers, too, whether I’m responding to an email or a phone call or a post on social media. Here, too, it’s easier some days than others. But I know that the way I respondTodd Martin 042114 image 1 to negativity has direct bearing on the issue’s outcome. So here are seven things I try to keep in mind when a red flag goes up.

I read each communication carefully. Then I go over it again. If it’s something that triggers a negative reaction in me, I put it aside – but not for long. With all that we have to read these days, it’s possible to skim over something and not completely grasp what’s being said. So I make sure I understand the email or tweet or whatever.

I reply as quickly as is possible. That doesn’t always mean immediately. If I hope to manage my time wisely, I can’t keep stopping and starting when I’m in the middle of a larger task. So I don’t look at emails or Facebook frequently during those periods because I know I’ll get sucked in. Your customers can’t expect you to be monitoring your communications channels constantly, and will understand if they don’t hear from you right away.

I admit when I’m wrong. It’s amazing how the phrases, “I’m sorry about…” and “We apologize for…” can diffuse an otherwise unpleasant situation that could escalate without those simple combinations of words. Sometimes, that’s all my customer wants to hear. Even if there’s some kind of action I have to take, that initial admission of fault on my part starts that process off on the right foot and can soften my customer’s reaction.

I listen carefully if it’s a phone or face-to-face conversation. I can tell when someone’s not really listening to me. Instead, they’re formulating their response before I’ve even finished my comments. I try very hard not to do this to my customers, though it’s natural to start thinking about how I’m going to reply. But it’s important to get the whole message, since sometimes the main point is wrapped up in the last sentence. A few seconds of dead air aren’t going to hurt, and your customers will appreciate that you actually heard them.

I take whatever action I can. Good listening skills go a long way toward keeping customers happy. Sometimes, all they want is to be heard. But I try to follow up and fix what I can fix as quickly as possible.

Todd Martin 062615 image 1I know when to fold ‘em. Unfortunately, there are folks out there who just want to stir up trouble. It’s not too hard to identify them. If you’ve been involved in social media for a while, you’ll be especially good at recognizing them. If someone wants to start a flame war online, tell them politely when you’re withdrawing and why. If you have a hot customer who may have a valid gripe, try to take it offline or to some kind of direct message.

I use my CRM application to document many kinds of customer interactions. This is one of the 10 best benefits of using a Customer Relationship Management solution. Besides the fact that I can check in on social media streams without leaving the software or website, I can keep good notes on especially good and bad communications right in the customer’s profile. That way, I can quickly see what’s happened with a given customer in the past – as can anyone else who has permission to view parts of my content.

Do I always succeed in my attempts to diffuse negative situations? No. I’m human. But of all the skills we as salespeople need to have, this one can go a long way toward retaining customers.



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